Raptor banding workshop educates public
My friend and I left early on Dec. 8 from Lake Almanor, headed for a raptor-banding workshop put on by Plumas Audubon Society. Our destination was Sierra Valley near Beckwourth. As we bravely drove through snow and ice, we wondered what was in store for us and if it was even wise to be traveling on such a wintry day. Had we known what lay ahead of us, we would have had no such doubts.
Two hours later we met the group and our leader, Jerry Williams, ex-president of the Plumas Audubon Society board. Following him, we arrived at the beautiful, expansive Roberti Ranch where the Roberti family has graciously allowed Jeff Kidd, of Kidd Biological, Inc., to set up traps for his research on raptors.
Raptors are birds of prey such as hawks, falcons and owls. Since 1993, Kidd has been conducting raptor migration research projects throughout Alaska, Canada, California, Nevada, Mexico, and more recently, Scandinavia. His company also does biological consulting services.
Kidd trapped rough-legged hawks in Plumas County and other locations in 2014-15 and affixed them with transmitters to track their migration timing and routes. Peregrine falcons were trapped in Plumas County and tracked to Mexico.
Springing out of our cars at the meet-up site, trampling through hay and mud around the side of a large barn holding bales of hay clear to the roof, the first sight to meet our astounded eyes was Scott Thomas holding two large hawks with blazing eyes and open mouths.
Thomas, a raptor ecologist and project manager for Kidd Biological, had one of these creatures so full of vitality and energy in each arm. His hands held their feet firmly to avoid their talons.
Our first concern was the open mouths of the hawks. Thomas explained to us that it was due to the stress of being captured. The bird could not know that after a quick banding, weighing, measuring and note taking process, it would be released to return to its normal life. Its release would be slightly delayed today due to the group’s awe, questions and photography.
Thomas filled us in on some of the birds’ lifestyle and habits. While some raptors like the golden eagle and great horned owl take time to train their offspring on hunting technique, most hawks do not do this. As a result, some of the young birds, called juveniles, do not survive beyond their first year.
Many large birds of prey live to be as old as 30 years in the wild. Once the bird makes it past its first year, the chances are good for a long life. Thomas said their company has a record of 15-plus years for a red-tailed hawk.
Birds of prey can be further divided into groups such as owl, hawk, falcon, eagle, vulture, accipiter, harrier and buteo.
Thomas informed the group that falcons kill with their beaks. The birds are noted as powerful fliers and divers with long, narrow, pointed wings and long tails.
In fact, the prairie falcon that was captured had a falconry hood on its head because it was biting and drawing blood from Kidd’s hands. Falcons are among the most aerial and acrobatic of the raptors, and their flight abilities are legendary, clocking speeds of over 100 miles per hour.
In contrast, Thomas said that the buteos, large, stout-bodied hawks, kill with their talons.
The discussion at the event centered on the types of raptors that were captured that day, so every type of raptor was not discussed.
All raptors have keen vision and are carnivores (meat-eaters). As the group watched the birds being banded and held by members of the group, I could feel the energy emanating from them. Since their job is to kill other animals in order to survive, raptors must outwit and outsmart their prey, which in turn, are trying to outwit and outsmart their predators.
Some interesting facts are that the bird will get a new feather every year. Each feather molts annually, but of course, not all at once. Female hawks are larger than males. Juvenile birds of prey, as in many bird species, have different plumage coloration than the adults. Some birds of prey, such as eagles, take as long as four years to reach their adult plumage.
Kidd had a device to measure the feet for the placement of the band. The band is placed on the bird’s tarsus, which looks like it would be their ankle. The band will enable Kidd and his research group to track the bird’s migration pattern across the great distances that the bird travels. If you should ever find a bird with a band, it is very important that you call the phone number or contact the website which is on the band.
An important question asked was about the use of mouse poison and how that affects the birds of prey. Unfortunately, these rodenticides are often over-used and can build up in the tissues of the birds, eventually causing death.
One of the original rough-legged hawks that Kidd trapped in American Valley and put a satellite transmitter on in January 2014 has returned once again for the winter.Jeff is requesting photos of the bird. If you have a chance, find the one with the transmitter. This hawk has traveled back and forth between Plumas County and Alaska breeding grounds for three years now.
It was a great day of learning and watching some amazing, fantastic birds up close and personal.